If the Cincinnati Reds are going to make a run at their first NL Central title since 1995, this week might be their best remaining opportunity.
The second-place Reds look to continue their recent success against the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals when the rivals open a crucial four-game series Monday at Great American Ball Park.
St. Louis leads Cincinnati by 3 1-2 games in the NL Central race, but the Reds have dominated the season series thus far, winning the last five meetings and six of eight overall. Cincinnati swept the only two home games it’s played against the Cardinals (60-50) this season on May 1-2.
The Reds (57-54) visit St. Louis for a three-game series next week in the final meeting between the clubs this season.
Cincinnati gets to face a struggling starting pitcher in Jeff Weaver (1-2, 8.68 ERA) as it tries to begin closing the gap with the Cardinals in Monday’s series opener.
Weaver joined St. Louis at the beginning of July following a terrible start to the 2006 season with the Los Angeles Angels. After winning 14 games in 2005, he was 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA with the Angels in 2006.
Switching leagues hasn’t helped, as Weaver hasn’t made it out of the sixth inning in any of his four starts as a Cardinal. On Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies, the right-hander lasted just 3 1-3 innings, allowing seven runs and eight hits in the 16-8 loss.
The next day Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wouldn’t comment on what the Cardinals would do if Weaver didn’t improve. With Mark Mulder expected to return from the disabled list soon, though, Weaver’s spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy.
“(Weaver has) done enough things in a positive way that you can see that he’s got the potential to help us,” La Russa said. “Yesterday, I thought he pitched better than the numbers by a little, but he got himself in trouble by not pitching well.
“He’s got some proving to do and we’ll see how it goes.”
Weaver said there’s nothing wrong with his mechanics despite averaging more than 18 pitches per inning since joining the Cardinals.
“My stuff is definitely fine,” said Weaver, who is 4-1 with a 4.03 ERA in seven starts against the Reds. “For the most part, it’s tough to do that when you put pressure on yourself to do it each and every time you go out there.”
The Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 on Sunday, their second straight win after an eight-game losing streak. Juan Encarnacion hit a three-run homer and Albert Pujols went 3-for-4 with a double.
Pujols finished the Milwaukee series 6-for-12 with a home run and five runs scored. The Cardinals first baseman has hit 28 homers in his career against the Reds, tied for his most against any opponent.
Cincinnati failed to record over a weekend series sweep of the Atlanta Braves, sqaundering an eight-inning lead en route to a 6-4 defeat in Sunday’s finale as reliever Gary Majewski allowed four runs.
The Reds will hand the ball to Elizardo Ramirez (4-7, 4.47), who lost Wednesday to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 23-year-old right-hander struggled with his control in the 5-3 loss, allowing five runs—four of them in the third inning—and walking four over 4 2-3 innings.
“I feel bad because the team lost,” Ramirez said. “Four runs in the third inning … I don’t know (what happened).”
Ramirez has never faced the Cardinals.